Saturday, March 14, 2009

What you thought you knew (but didn't actually know) about Turkey - 2
  • How democratic is the AKP?

Western policy makers once thought that the AKP would lead to a more democratic society, and Turkey would then demonstrate the compatibility of Islam and democracy for other Muslim countries in the Middle East. (Of course, one of the purposes of our lives is to play guinea pigs in western experiments.) Turkey's liberal intelligentsia thought the displacement of the old elite in power would bring about a liberal democracy. So far, this elite seems to have been replaced by a new elite, and the AKP supporters seem to have penetrated and dominated state institutions, instead of making them more transparent and accountable. The same power game is being played, simply by a new player.

Let's take a step back first, and question whether the AKP leadership has really internalized liberal democratic values. The authors say, "Islamic conservatism is not yet at peace with an understanding of secularism that calls for the withdrawal of religion from public realm, which in turn is a prerequisite for liberal democracy." They remind us Erdogan's words, "democracy is a street car, from which we jump off after we reach our destination."

More recently, Erdogan said, "we only took the immorality of the West, not its science." The authors respond, "The Turkish intellectual debate has been haunted by the same expectation since westernization started in the 19th century, namely that it would somehow reveal itself to be possible to acquire the science and technology of the west without having to import western freedom of the mind, specifically the freedom to inquire about and question religious beliefs." The latest incident in TUBITAK (where one of the AKP-appointed administrators censored the stories about Darwin in the TUBITAK magazine, Bilim-Teknik) demonstrates this point vividly.

If you put different pieces of the story together, the picture is quite striking. AKP appoints its supporters to state institutions based on their political loyalty, not merit or competence. (Let's say they pick from a sub-set of supporters, rather than all the possible candidates for the job.) They award government contracts to supporters (ranging from local constructors, who build roads, to Çalık Holding, who will build the Samsun-Ceyhan oil pipeline, if the pipeline ever gets built). The same Çalık Holding only paid $150 million of the $1.25 billion for Sabah-ATV media group, which it won as the sole bidder in the privatization tender. The rest of the money came from state banks and a Gulf investment fund. Just so that the government can control one more piece of the media. And for the chunk of media they don't control, they start huge tax investigations.

Now everybody knows about the Deniz Feneri scandal. AKP affiliates, after having founded the charitable foundation of the same name in Turkey in 1998, decided to open one in Germany to tap the resources there - the good-hearted Turkish immigrants. They then proceeded to funnel some of the donations to their own companies, and German affiliates of Islamist media, like Yeni Şafak and Kanal 7, and couriered some of it to Turkey. According to the German indictment, Zahid Akman, the current chairman of the Supreme Board of Radio and Television (RTUK) was an active member of the operation. Akman, who belongs to the same Iskenderpaşa lodge of the Nakşibendi religious brotherhood as Erdogan, remains RTUK chairman.

Ergenekon. The investigation could have been a chance to eliminate criminal elements within the state. It could be the first step of a wholesale effort to bring to justice those responsible for the assassinations of Hrant Dink and Uğur Mumcu, the attack to the Council of State (Danıştay) in 2006, the extra-judicial killings of Kurds in the south east. I am not saying all these crimes were committed by a single organization, but Ergenekon could be the first step in a series of investigations, it could be the first spark. The investigators, however, framed the investigation around the assumption that the whole purpose was to overthrow the government. This gave them the pretext to intimidate and weaken those who oppose the AKP.

A public relations campaign is carried out in pro-government media outlets alongside the investigation. There seems to be an archive of tapped phone conversations and confidential documents, from which the most relevant ones are leaked to pro-government press at opportune times. Law 5397, which was adopted on 3.7.2005, extended the scope of legal phone tapping by allowing police chiefs, gendarmarie commanders and the National Intelligence Organization to issue a phone tapping order, subject to the approval of the judges of Heavy Punishment Courts within 24 hours. These tappings are carried out to “prevent” crimes such as organized drug trafficking and “violent attempts to overthrow the government.” There seems to be no mechanism to supervise these tappings to make sure that they remain confidential.

Given that the AKP's definition of democracy is limited to electoral success, it is no surprise that the government's main priority has been the local elections since the Constitutional Court verdict that saved them from dissolution in July. Erdogan himself picked most of the AKP candidates in the local elections. Within the party, Erdogan is surrounded by a circle of loyal supporters, and he has to have the last word before a piece of legislation is submitted to the parliament. There must be a mountain of law proposals in the "Prime Ministry," which are waiting to get the final seal of approval. Very often a law proposal that made the headlines in newspapers is forgotten after it is lost in the prime minister's office.

For someone who doesn't have a personal interest in Turkey, all this may seem like details. This kind of thing happens in every emerging market, one may say. But I am happy that I am able to care enough to feel angry at this. This is not just any subject matter for me, I actually care about it. And I am deeply disappointed. I thought it would be shame not to speak up about it when I have an opinion about it.

1 comment:

edamo said...

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good luck